When reductions in international and domestic flights plunged Australia's nuclear medicine transportation into chaos, a Wagga-based professor was one of the experts tasked with keeping the system running.
Nuclear medicines used in the treatment of a variety of cardiovascular, neurological and cancerous diseases have short 'half-lives,' meaning transportation is a race against the clock as the stock decays over a matter of hours.
Charles Sturt University nuclear medicine expert Geoff Currie is part of a working group tasked with finding shortages in nuclear medicine across Australia and looking for solutions.
Early in the pandemic, Dr Currie was involved in securing fortnightly chartered flights from Japan bringing the radioactive isotope iodine-123, used mainly to diagnose and inform treatments for cancer in children.
The treatment is used for just a handful of patients across Australia at any given time, which means it is not financially viable to produce in the country.
Dr Currie said securing chartered flights meant children were seeing smaller delays in diagnosis, which would in turn improve their treatment outcomes.
"There are a number of delays that continue to be problematic but at least we're getting it in," he said. "The bigger issues have been domestically."
Dr Currie said the working party was trying to reduce delays caused by ever-changing reductions in domestic flights.
Air freight from Sydney into Brisbane has had to be abandoned as reduced flights made road freight quicker and more efficient, while the government has needed to maintain some commercial flights for the main purpose of maintaining supply to isolated cities like Darwin.
"You can imagine how bad that is in rural Australia, where coming into Wagga you've got two or three flights a week, so it means some of those rural and regional communities are now really under the pump," Dr Currie said.
He said while the situation was still not ideal, the working party and the government had made it possible to survive the current situation.
Dr Currie said while Australia was fortunate to be mostly self-sufficient with its nuclear medicine supply, the pandemic had highlighted the vulnerability of supply coming out of the Lucas Heights reactor.
He said while most of the facility was new, an older building producing the end product for distribution had previously experienced faults that forced the country to rely on international support.
"It needs to be replaced and it needs to be replaced urgently," he said.
"If we had an issue in that building during COVID crisis it would be absolutely dire for the health and wellbeing of Australians."